I married a woman who was a lipstick model for a
cosmetics company. Their ads proclaimed their products were cruelty
free and that they didn't test them on animals. We had passionate
sex every night, sex so wonderful that I forgot there were stars.
The only problem was she would not let me kiss her. She did not
test their products on animals either.
We kissed once in Las Vegas. We had both been drinking
champagne. It was in one of those wedding chapels across from
the Circus Circus casino that look like the perfect Norman Rockwell
view of a church, only shrunk down to miniature size so it could
easily fit between two huge casinos. It had a big pointy steeple,
an arched front door and plenty of stained-glass windows. It was
called the Little Wedding Chapel to the Stars, and, inside, the
Minister to the Stars had couples waiting in line.
After we checked off the items we wanted from a menu
that included various souvenir photos, floral bouquets, selected
musical stylings, choice of religious or secular service, and
option of long-grain rice or bird seed (the ecological preference),
we reverently passed through the Wedding Photo Gallery to the
Stars. There were pictures of their famous clients on the walls,
forming a perfect gallery of B film and canceled-after-one-season
TV actors. Puffy faces, red eyes, toupees askew, the booze and
the city seemed to have gotten to them all.
After the cowboy and cowgirl clad couple ahead of
us had said their "Yep, I dos" and finished up with
a ceremonial roping of the wedding couple by a hired hand cum
Will Rogers (costumes and roper as featured on the services menu),
it was our turn.
We were casually dressed in shorts and matching Caesar's
Palace T-Shirts. We had opted for a simple secular ceremony, no
expensive extras. But the Minister to the Stars converted our
alcohol-induced frivolity to sobriety and focused our attention
on what we were doing.
With real conviction he said, "And if you ever
think you are not being loved enough, try loving more. Giving
love will bring back love." Maybe it was the booze or the
heat or the moment, but we both started crying and then we kissed.
The kiss was fast. She winced. I thought of those
prostitutes you see on daytime TV talk shows. The ones who say
they'll do anything but kiss their clients. One said that "kissing
was just too personal."
My wife perfected the Hollywood kiss. You know the
one where it looks like two people on the screen are kissing each
other tight with a hot passion, but if you were close enough you
could see one person's cold fingers sequestered like a maiden
aunt between the two pressing mouths. Whenever there was a moment
in front of relatives or friends that called for a familial smooch
between spouses, up would shoot two of her fingers faster than
a harsh word.
It reminded me of something I read about a photographer
who had to take pictures at a nudist colony. There she was surrounded
by handsome, naked, young men. But there was one naked man who
was wearing a bandage on his ankle. After a while, it got so the
only thing the photographer wanted to look at was what was under
that small strip of material. That's the way kissing became for
me. I had sex. Plenty of it. But what I wanted to remember was
what was best: the moment you first take your lips away after
a kiss or the moment before your lips are joined tight like butterfly
We tried lots of substitutes. Once she cupped her
hand into the shape of a puppet's mouth, licked the side of her
hand wet, and tried kissing my mouth with it. She said it was
the way small girls first learn to kiss by practicing on their
own hands. "Kissy, kissy," she said, but it reminded
me too much of Senor Wences on The Ed Sullivan Show, too
much like kissing a ventriloquist's dummy.
I thought of my history of kisses, of all of the
kisses I'd ever been given. Forehead kisses from my mom and kisses
on hurt knees, air kisses of aunts, the kiss of peace from perfumed
ladies at church, and the kiss of life we practiced in PE class,
pressing our lips to a mannequin. I thought of fainting in front
of my wife, but she always carried one of those plastic resuscitation
masks in her in purse. I recalled a girl named Alice in elementary
school kissing my eyelids like the smallest brush of a painter's
kit. I thought of the funniest place to be kissed and the best
place to be kissed. I thought of blowing kisses, of the kiss off,
and the kiss of death. I remembered finding the imprint of a kiss
once on a menu in a restaurant: was the red stamp self love or
the loneliness of kissing shadows?
I did not think of the later kisses that were just
the prelude to taking off clothes. I realized that I had not lingered
long enough on the kisses of my youth. The first kiss, the wings
of her mouth opening, ruffling against my own, both ready to fly
away in a moment's notice. I wondered why teens had to be the
keepers of the kiss.
The dictionary says that the verb "kiss"
means to touch or press with the lips sightly pursed in a token
of affection, greeting, or reverence. And yes, I wanted to touch
and press, to smack, peck, buss, graze, caress, brush, and, yes,
even to osculate. I thought of that business-mind acronym for
KISS, keep it simple, stupid, but that's what I longed for, the
perfect, stupid, simplicity of a kiss.
I entered a crowded movie theater as an escape from
the kisslessness of things, just minutes after the movie started.
I sat down in the dark, before my eyes had yet to adjust, before
I realized that the stranger sitting next to me had turned, my
hands full of salty popcorn and sweet cola, and grabbed me and
placed a full kiss on my mouth. Whether man or woman, mistaken
identity or stolen kiss, I rose up like a shout and ran, spilling
my refreshments, all the way out the exit door.
Only outside, after slowing down to breathe in the
light, did the seed of memory grow. I thought of the long way
some people go to arrive at a kiss. Of Snow White's Prince Charming
who finds a dead girl in a glass coffin, surrounded by dwarfs,
and the only thing he feels compelled to do is kiss her. And how
I could find a cemetery for kissing, too, through sleep.
That night, I watched my wife in her sleep. She always
slept on her back, one arm behind her head, almost posed for a
photo of Sleeping Beauty. I thought it would be easy. I hoped
to cover her mouth with a kiss so perfect that she could remember
it when she waked. She would recall it like a dream of expectation
and wish to act upon it.
But my desire was too ferocious. I knew that my kiss
would press too hard or wet or loud with life's worries. So I
faltered over her sleeping form, and I thought backwards from
climaxes to foreplays to kisses and, before even that, to the
moment of desire to kiss, to the moment I was so happy just to
see her, that first day, at Starbucks, in line beside me, ordering
a Frappuccino, the exact same thing I ordered, and her
smile when her hand bumped into mine as we both reached simultaneously
for the white-chocolate sprinkles.
Then, I burst into tears. And she woke and asked,
"Why are you crying?" And I said, "It's nothing,
go back to sleep." And I looked down at her, in the dark,
strands of her hair misplaced, her eyes half-opened, and her rich
mouth filled with the weight of sleep. "It's nothing,"
I whispered again. "It's only happiness." And she reached
up and pulled my face down to meet hers, and we kissed.